DOL weighs in: Must workers be paid for time in wellness activities?

Author:Robinson, Alfred B., Jr.
Position:Nuts & Bolts

More employers are providing various wellness incentives as part of their medical insurance plans to promote healthier lifestyles and choices. But is the time employees spend voluntarily participating in wellness activities, biometric screenings and benefit fairs compensable?

In August, the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division released an opinion letter that addressed that question. (Read opinion letter FLSA2018-20 at

3 kinds of wellness programs

The letter addressed whether staff should be paid if they participate in:

Wellness activities. When employees agree to participate in wellness activities, they may be rewarded with lower health insurance deductibles, lower premiums or both. Wellness activities noted in the opinion letter include--but are not limited to--attendance at health education classes on topics such as nutrition, participation in employer-sponsored gym classes (or use of an employer-provided gym) and participation in weight-loss programs.

Biometric screenings. The letter describes examples of biometric screening tests to include testing for "cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and nicotine usage."

Benefits fairs. Attendance at such events would educate staff about benefits the employer provides, continuing education opportunities and financial planning.

Voluntary participation is key

The Wage and Hour Division reiterated that its analysis was only of activities in which participation was strictly voluntary. (Company-mandated events would be compensable.) In other words:

* It was up to the employee to decide whether to participate

* None of the activities were related to an employee's orientation or job duties

* The employer did not derive a financial benefit if an employee participated in any activity.

That final point is key: The DOL letter noted that the determination of whether time is compensable turns on whether the time is spent performing duties that benefit the employer or the employee.

It further noted that compensable time did not include the time during which an employee is off duty or completely relieved of work responsibilities and able to use such time for his or her own purposes.

Who benefits from the program?

In the case described in the opinion letter, participation was purely voluntary, the employees may benefit financially from participation, and participation enabled an employee to make better decisions about nonwork matters. For that reason, the DOL found...

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